Holy Fear

“Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? 

1 Samuel 6:20

This was the response of some of the people of Israel after encountering the awesome presence of God.

The Philistines had captured the ark of the Lord, and it had been in Philistine territory for seven months. In that time the presence of the Lord, which stayed in proximity of the ark, had toppled pagan gods and created quite a stir among the Philistine people. Disease had broken out in judgment against the Philistines who were attempting to subdue the God of Israel. It wasn’t working.

So the Philistines sent the ark back to Israel, and it ends up in the area of Beth Shemesh. The people of Beth Shemesh were so excited about this that they offered sacrifices to the Lord and had a huge celebration. Yet, even then, some Israelites were too flippant with the presence of the Lord. Some of them dropped dead “because they looked into the ark of the Lord“(1 Samuel 6:19).

Before we start picturing the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, let’s look again at what the people of Beth Shemesh said. What caused the fear of the Lord to fall on the people was not God’s omnipotence or judgment. What caused an absolute fear to fall on the people was God’s holiness.

Throughout scripture we learn that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; it’s a fountain of life and a blessing to all who fear God. The fear of the Lord in this context is not about being afraid of God but instead about honoring God with our lives. It’s about being in awe of God with a holy reverence. This kind of “fear of the Lord” is something we can mature and grow in as we mature in Christ.

Yet, there is another kind of “fear of the Lord” that can happen when we encounter the raw presence of God. Throughout scripture those who encounter the presence of God (or an angel who is saturated in the presence of God) usually end up dropping to the ground in fear. This happens not because God is terrifying but because He is completely holy.

I have tried to live with the first kind of fear of the Lord (respect, honor, reverence) for most of my life. Yet, I encountered the second kind of fear of the Lord for the first time a few months ago. I had an encounter with God where the power of God was running through my body like 220 volts of electricity. This went on for many minutes, to the point where all the muscles in my body involuntarily contracted (picture someone getting tased and you’re getting close to what the experience was like). It was beautiful and painful!

After the power of God subsided, and I was able to get off the ground, I began to walk around to try to recover from what just happened. While I was walking, suddenly and without warning, the overwhelming sense of how close the raw presence of God came to me hit me like a ton of bricks. This was not something I was aware of naturally. It was something the Holy Spirit suddenly revealed to me in that moment.

As soon as it dawned on me how close I was to the raw presence of God, the holy fear of the Lord hit me. I’ve never felt anything like it. All I could do was sit down and weep. The holy fear that hit me was tangible. I couldn’t pray anything intelligible. The only thing coming out of my mouth was, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” That’s all I could pray for about 10 minutes. I was enveloped in a holy fear.

The holiness of God is absolutely terrifying. And I’m sure I only tasted a sliver of it. If you think standing before this holy God during judgment is going to be all love and rainbows, think again. Yes, God is love. His love is overwhelming and unconditional. God is also holy. And His holiness will drop us to our knees in absolute fear. For all the universalists out there who think God is like Santa Claus, think again. Those who face the holiness of God naked–not clothed in the righteousness of Christ–will not find the proximity of the Lord something to be desired. Even those of us clothed in Christ will be overwhelmed.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to surrender your life to Jesus. You’re not promised tomorrow! You don’t know when you will be standing before this holy God, but you will want to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ (rather than your own) when you do.

Peace!

Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 

Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast.

The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.

Judges 6:17, 19-24

Gideon had an encounter with the angel of the Lord but wanted evidence that it was really him. So Gideon made an offering, and, with one touch of the tip of the angel’s staff, the offering was consumed by fire. We’re not sure here if Gideon was dealing with an angel or some manifestation of God Himself. Maybe this was the pre-incarnate Son of God.

Gideon seemed to come to the realization that he was in God’s Presence. This realization absolutely terrified him. Over and over again in scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, we see that there is an aspect of being in God’s raw Presence that is completely terrifying. There is a holy fear that comes upon people. This isn’t because God is scary but because He is pure power in His majesty. There is something about his overwhelming holiness that makes human beings instantly aware of our sinfulness and lowliness. In these moments, the “fear of the Lord” moves from just being a concept about honoring God into a tangible reality that they can feel in their bones.

Seeing Gideon in a state of complete terror, the angel of the Lord (likely the Lord Himself) said, “Peace!” This sounds really familiar.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!

John 20:19-21

When God says the word “peace,” it changes atmospheres, quiets storms, and has tangible effects on people. When God speaks “peace” He’s not just saying, “It’s okay.” When God says “peace” He is releasing the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of the world.

Gideon feels the effect of peace being spoken over his life so much that he actually sets up an altar in that place and calls it, “The Lord is Peace.” In other words, when God speaks peace into our lives He is imparting an aspect of His very nature to us. Isaiah 9:6 prophesies that one of Jesus’s titles would be “Prince of Peace.”

Is there chaos in your life? In your heart? In your mind? Are you bound by fear and anxiety? If so, then peace is what you need, and God is the source of the kind of peace you need. Hear him speaking “Peace” to you today!

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:5-7